We’ve all seen a dog with a vest that says “Do Not Pet” accompanying someone through an airport or a store. 

You can’t pet these Service Dogs because they’re “working,” but what exactly qualifies a dog as a Service Dog? And, can anyone get one?

Service Dogs play a vital role in hundreds of thousands of Americans’ lives. Let’s find out what jobs they perform and who they serve.

service dog holding

What is a Service Dog? 

Service Dogs are not pets; they are working dogs specifically trained to aid or assist an individual with a disability.

The federal government recognizes Service Dogs as working dogs and their handlers are granted specific rights. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990 enacted legal protections for those with disabilities. It states that Service Dogs cannot be denied entrance to any public place as long as they are under their handler’s control. Additionally, a person may not be charged extra because of their Service Dog or denied access that’s granted to those without service animals.

The ADA also protects individuals with disabilities from discriminatory treatment by limiting the questions others can ask of them and their Service Dog. Business staff may only ask a handler two questions about their Service Dog: 

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Who Qualifies for a Service Dog? 

Service Dogs can help anyone with a disability that is recognized by the ADA. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Those with emotional conditions not recognized as disabilities by the ADA, such as depression, do not qualify for a Service Dog but may be able to get an Emotional Support Dog instead.

Anyone with a disability that could benefit from a Service Dog’s help has a legal right to one. 

What Kind of Conditions Do Service Dogs Help With?

Service Dogs serve individuals with a wide range of both physical and mental disabilities. From Guide Dogs that help with mobility, to Psychiatric Service Dogs that help with anxiety, Service Dogs make life easier for countless Americans with disabilities.

Eligible Physical Disabilities include but aren’t limited to:

  • Blindness (partial and complete)
  • Deafness (partial and complete)
  • Paralysis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Autism
  • Epilepsy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Scoliosis
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Seizures
  • Mobility Issues

Eligible Mental Disabilities include but aren’t limited to:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Substance Abuse disorders

What are the Benefits of Getting a Service Dog?

Service Dogs help their handlers live more independent lives by helping them with tasks that would otherwise prove very difficult, or even impossible, to perform. They can be specifically trained to perform tasks such as reminding someone to take medication or helping them up steps. They can even save their handler’s life by aiding or getting help during an epileptic seizure or PTSD flashback. 

Besides the performance of necessary tasks and the potential life-saving assistance of a Service Dog, there are other benefits to making your dog a Service Dog. According to the ADA, you can live with your dog anywhere, including properties that have no-pet policies. You can also travel with your dog anywhere (even on an airplane, according to the Air Carrier Access Act). 

As previously mentioned, a public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that your dog has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. The ADA also protects your right to bring your Service Dog to work. Your employer must make reasonable accommodations for you and your dog, such as allow for walk breaks and adequate space. 

in public with your service dog

Interested in Getting a Service Dog?

If you have a legal right to a Service Dog, investing the time to train and educate a Service Dog is absolutely worth it. You’ll have a loyal companion devoted to making every day easier for you.

It’s also important to register your Service Dog to avoid the hassle of being questioned in public altogether. Not everyone knows or understands the rights granted by the ADA. A vest and ID tag will protect your rights as mandated by the ADA to travel freely with your Service Dog.